Brownstone Boys Reno: Construction Surprises

An initial plaster inspection

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 16th installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary about renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

Our place is over 120 years old, probably more like 130. City records are spotty, so many brownstones in Brooklyn show 1899 or other dates even if they were built before. We were fully expecting to find some surprises once we started opening up walls, although we were holding out hope there wouldn’t be anything major.

With this old of a building there were several that could have sent our dream crashing down to reality. Well, the walls are open and we can see most of the surprises we think we’ll find!

There definitely is good news and bad news. The good news is that the place is in overall decently good shape. Most of the people we have had in and out doing work have commented that the bones are good.

brownstone boys

We have already repaired the termite damage in the basement we found during the inspection. Fortunately it was limited to about 6 feet of the main structural beam. Sounded pretty scary to us!

We had a termite inspection once the basement ceiling was open (it’s semi-finished) and everything else looked great. The new beam is in so we’re relieved to be past what had potential to be a larger issue. We’ll schedule a termite treatment in the spring just to be safe.

As we expected there were some other surprises. The first surprise is on the parlor floor where originally there was a wall with pocket doors separating the front parlor area from the back parlor area (where we’re building the kitchen).

Because of this wall, the original crown moulding, picture frame moulding, and ceiling cove define both spaces. The pocket doors and most of that interior wall are gone, but there is still a header and a small four foot section of wall on one side. Fortunately the original plaster moldings are still there. We’re removing the four foot section of wall but not the header.

It’s definitely something that a developer or anyone doing a bigger renovation would completely remove. The problem is that if we remove it we would lose a lot of the moldings and the cove on the ceiling that we are determined to keep intact. We could put up new moldings but we like the ones we have!

So we have two problems. The first is structural. Someone did some plumbing directly above the header and cut right through one of the floor joists. So it needs to be repaired before we remove the section of wall.

Unfortunately the master bedroom wall is directly over where the joist needs to be repaired so we needed to temporarily remove it. It’s a relatively easy and inexpensive solution. But we don’t want one of our floor joists cut in half, so it’s something that has to be done.

brownstone boys

Bye bye basement beam

The other issue in this area is cosmetic but ironically much more expensive. If you‘ve seen some of our before pics, you might remember that there was a small kitchen built in the middle of the parlor floor. A soffit was built that covered some of the moldings next to the 4-foot section of wall.

Unfortunately when we took down the soffit the moldings and ceiling weren’t in great shape so we need to have them repaired. The repair requires some skill to replicate moldings to match as best as we can the existing ones and then to finish. Fortunately a plaster master will be skillfully handling the repairs!

There were a couple of other things that need to be addressed as well. Most likely the same culprit removed the support for a joist that doesn’t tie into the brick sidewall. So now it’s floating there unsupported! We’re working on the best option to repair. Most likely we’ll just support it on the wall that will be built below it against the brick where all of our kitchen plumbing will go.

brownstone boys

A free floating joist spotted during renovation

Finally, the last issue we’re working on requires us to get creative to support the LVL header replacing the wall that we removed to open up the back area for our kitchen. Basically, we need to bolt it into the brick to create the support.

Believe it or not that’s all the surprises we’ve had so far. There’s still some potential for a couple more to pop up so we think at this point we’re through the woods — or at least the thickest part of them.

Related Stories

Email with further comments, questions or tips. Follow Brownstoner on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.


Brooklyn in Your Inbox

* indicates required

What's Happening